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Son of the Morning by Mark Alder

Son of the Morning by Mark Alder
Book Name: Son of the Morning
Author: Mark Alder
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy
Release Date: April 17, 2014

Welcome to the 14th Century. King Edward of England wages war against King Phillip of France, both sides of the conflict that history will know as the Hundred Years War. In these times, kings are chosen not by the people, but by God, their family lines ensuring son follows father by inheriting the kingdom – their divine right. Here’s the twist: such noble folk can call on the Angels themselves, who will manifest to fight for King and Country, using heavenly powers against their enemies. Edward is severely outnumbered: Philip can put 50,000 men into the field and is summoning ranks of Angels to fight for France. Edward, perceived as a usurper, worries that God is truly on the side of the French. Yet, even the Angels have enemies and, for a price, Edward could open the gates of Hell itself…

That’s the premise of Son of the Morning, a historical fantasy by Mark Alder; initially, I suspected that my limited knowledge of this period in history would also limit my enjoyment of this novel, but that proved not to be the case. While the characters vary between the fictional and the real, Alder has made each of them his own; I found myself concerned for all of them, noble and peasant alike, able to understand the motivations and desires that drive every one of these unique personalities.

No two sound the same, and each has their own agenda and point of view that they share with the reader; each character – including those perceived to be a villain – is the hero of their own story. It takes good writing to manage this, and Alder makes it look easy. History may have given us characters such as William Montagu, but Alder brings him to vivid life; we understand his reasons for doing the ‘wrong’ thing, making us sympathetic as to why he thinks he is right.

Alder’s writing is a feast for the senses, bringing the world to complete life; you can almost hear the sounds of combat, practically taste the dirt of the battlefield. Yet, it’s not just the everyday that’s made so vivid. The demons and devils that populate the novel are as well-realised as anything from a Heironymous Bosch painting, so much so that it’s as if they’ve walked from the canvas onto the page to terrorise and – in some cases – aid the characters.

Despite lofty comparisons with George R. R. Martin and Bernard Cornwell, Alder is so much more than the sum of these parts. Son of the Morning is going to weigh in at a whopping 900 plus pages but, believe me, they will fly by. Yes, he has Martin’s skill with characters and a thrilling plot that Cornwell would envy, but the story is told in Alder’s own definitive voice, which is one worth listening to. While the comparisons are justified, the book stands on its own as a unique and gripping tale that will keep you reading long into the night.

No scene is wasted, every word revealing character, furthering the plot, or adding an unexpected twist. It never feels like there’s any excess that could be trimmed to make the book sharper, despite its size, while some scenes may stay with the reader beyond sleep; images of the sea battle, the angels hovering overhead, haunted my dreams the night I read it.

I get the sense Alder enjoyed writing this, and I absolutely enjoyed reading it. The author has clearly done his research – in both earthly and spiritual history – but it never comes across as ‘look what I know, aren’t I clever?’, instead blending seamlessly into the narrative, so much so that it would be no surprise if these were all actual events, with the reader placed right in the thick of the action.

It’s no criticism, but the story did seem to slip into the surreal towards the end, the action almost too fast to follow (although this could be because I stayed up into the late hours to finish the book because I was at the stage where I couldn’t put it down). Saying that, a book with angels and demons walking the earth is never going to feel normal, now is it?

Overall, Son of the Morning is a triumphant combination of great characters and an epic – yet never too sprawling – plot. Alder writes confidently, with a sly wit that will make the reader laugh out loud, along with moments that are purely sinister. He’s added something unsettling to history, creating a vivid and realistic story that, once you’re in, you’ll find it hard to leave. Son of the Morning isn’t released for a couple of months yet, but it’s going to be a worthwhile wait: buy it, devour it, and then find yourself hungry for the next instalment, just as I am now.


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